On 18 November, the security forces in Kashmir achieved a big success when six LeT terrorists were killed in an encounter at Chandergeer village in Bandipora district. The slain included a close relative of Zakiur Rehman Lakhvi, the LeT “supreme commander” of operations in Kashmir.
Three of the terrorists were shot by Corporal JP Nirala, part of the squad of Garud Commando Force of the Indian Air Force, which was attached with the Rashtriya Rifles battalion while undertaking this operation. Corporal Nirala himself was martyred in this operation after gunning them down.
Rise in Casualties Among Garud Commando Force
He was the third Garud Commando to make the supreme sacrifice in the past two months – on 11 October, Sergeant K Milind Kishor and Corporal Nilesh Kumar Nayan laid down their lives in an encounter with terrorists in the same area.
These casualties in quick succession have led to questions being raised about the necessity of employment of this force in anti-terrorist operations.
The questions raised are about the level of their training, and the need for deploying personnel from the Air Force in tasks which is not their primary responsibility. To answer these, it is necessary to look at the origin and tasking of the force itself.
Need for a Special Task Force
The Garud Commando Force was raised by the Indian Air Force in 2004, with the primary responsibility of protecting airfields and other assets of the air force.
The Defence Security Corps entrusted with this responsibility comprised retired soldiers.
The age profile, equipment and training of this corps was sufficient for basic watch and ward duties, but was not enough for counter terrorist attacks.
Neither could a sufficient number of infantry battalions be spared for providing effective protection to widespread air force assets on a permanent basis. A specialist force with this mandate, as an accretion, was therefore justified.
Attaching Squads with Army Units
The necessity of having a well-trained, dedicated force for guarding such vital assets was validated when terrorists targeted Pathankot air base in 2016.
But the same attack also revealed that the Garud personnel needed to respond more effectively in such situations to obviate the necessity of rushing in external units like the NSG, as had become necessary in Pathankot.
Based on this, a decision was probably taken to attach squads from the Garud force to Indian Army units in active counter insurgency operations area in Kashmir.
Training is No Substitute for Actual Combat Experience
As any old soldier knows, no amount of peacetime drills and training can replace actual combat experience to hone responses, skills and instinct that comprise the ultimate battle winning factor – be it in conventional operations or countering terrorists. Such baptism under fire also builds up esprit de corps which is the hallmark of a professional fighting unit.
The fact that three personnel of this force, recently martyred, took down several terrorists before laying down their own lives is indicative that they were at the forefront of operations, taking initiative rather than being on back foot due to lack of training.
If anything, it exhibits the eagerness of a fledgling force eager to prove itself and earn its place among the elite special forces of the country.
Lessons for Future
India’s war against terrorism, particularly in the face of terror being used as a tool in a continuous proxy war by our adversaries, is destined to be long and bloody. Strategic assets like air bases will continue to be key targets, given their vast expanse and limited manpower to provide physical security along extended perimeters.
The presence of highly trained troops within such locations, capable of speedily dealing with any attempted attacks without external assistance, is necessary.
The lessons learnt, albeit with the heavy price of the sacrifices made by these personnel deployed in Kashmir, will serve to strengthen the responses to future attacks, not only in the valley, but across the country where the Garud Force personnel are deployed.
(The writer is a retired colonel of the Indian army and currently a research fellow at the Ministry of Defence, writing the official history of India’s participation in World War I. He can be reached at @ragarwal. This is an opinion piece and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)
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